A long-time student of mine commented that while he knew the significance of how lunar phases and Bagua trigrams figured into my Yin yoga classes, newer students might not. He has a point. Short of doing my classes for months, or years, and without reading my book, A Righteous Stretch, my Yin yoga class theming could seem confusing. Let’s change that.

Dynamics

Christopher’s Yin Yoga classes are organized around the 29.5 day synodic lunar cycle. Why? Because each lunation provides a consistent, stepwise progression of events that lends itself to, for instance, understanding a process-oriented endeavor such as physical fitness. Yin yoga is a physical practice. For everything else it is, and there is much, it is first-and-foremost, fitness training. (Paul Grilley, the progenitor of this sort of Yin yoga, devised it as such.) So, the lunar cycle covers about a month of workouts, generally twelve or thirteen, at thrice-weekly frequency. The training load varies over the weeks, with increases and decreases prescribed by the eight lunar phases. New Moon classes are slow going, Full Moon classes are rather fast-paced, and Quarter Moon classes lie in-between. Intermediate phase classes are generally just basic Yin yoga, but leave room for some whimsy. Even within the standard frame of Yin yoga’s long-holds, dynamics are crucial to healthful conditioning, and are easily included by utilizing the lunar phases. Long holds aren’t just long holds, as stimulation varies and produces different effects. Without a plan, though, it’s all haphazard. The lunar cycle offers as good a plan as any.

The Phases

You’re probably already familiar with the eight unique lunar phases. But, to remind, each lunation starts with the New Moon — the Earth, Moon, Sun syzygy, where the three bodies are aligned on their vertical axes — and progresses through increasing then decreasing illumination, before starting over again with another New Moon the next month. These eight phases include, in order, the New, the Waxing Crescent, the First Quarter, the Waxing Gibbous, the Full (another syzygy), the Waning Gibbous, the Last Quarter, and the Waning Crescent Moons.

I might point out that, in the Northern Hemisphere, waxing moons are illuminated on their right side, and waning moons on their left. Something else, the New Moon resides in the daytime sky, more or less coordinated with sunrise and sunset. Of course, ya can’t see this moon, except during a solar eclipse, because it’s between the Sun and Earth, and is not reflecting light to Earth, but casting a shadow. This is an example of how the New Moon is considered Yin, as it is hidden and concealed in the daytime sky. Then, during a Full Moon, where the Moon is on the opposite side of the Earth, we see it reflecting sunlight from around sunset to sunrise. Though bright in the night sky, and thus Yang, the Moon remains Yin. It is not incandescent, like the Sun, and doesn’t produce its own light.

As well, an octagonal arrangement of trigrams known as the Early Heaven Bagua, or the Eight Changes, perfectly overlays the lunar phases. The trigrams are arrangements of three horizontal lines used to describe greater or lesser amounts of the life force, Chi. Here, with regard to the lunar cycle, Chi flow can be viewed as the varying levels of light that fall on the lunar surface over the weeks of any lunation. This reveals a life cycle. The ancient Chinese gave names to each of the trigrams, and imbued each with significance that borders on the esoteric. Mostly the meanings of the trigrams correspond to a society far removed from ours, but even so, they include immutable natural conditions and processes, including human nature.

So, you see, there’s a method to this lunacy, and it’s far from arbitrary. Below find brief descriptions of the trigrams, lunar phases, and other points pertinent to the streaming and On Demand classes on this site.

New Moon

Earth ☷

The receptive. Feminine, dark, cold, quiet, still … Yin. The beginning of a new lunation. Birth / rebirth.

Focus on setting some meaningful direction for the weeks ahead. That is, welcome, as the fertile Earth, new seeds of intent and the nourishment of the Creative Force, or ambient Yang energy. Let them begin germinating.

This Cardinal point class uses only a few very passive postures maintained for a longer period. For instance, 4 shapes each of 12 minutes duration. These postures alternate between a forward fold, a back bend, and left & right twists.

The breathing ratio is a twelve second, 4 : 6 : 2, nasal breath. An infant’s breath.

A symphonic gong opens and closes the class.

Waxing Crescent Moon

Thunder ☳

Shaking, quaking, upsetting, inciting energy meaning something is a foot. Change is coming, perhaps revolutionary. The Yang creative force begins asserting itself. Recognize how your efforts are already starting to take hold. Actively reach into the postures.

This Intermediate phase class generally consists of eight postures of five minutes each. Typically forward folds precede back bends which precede twists. A pretty basic arrangement.

The breathing ratio is a ten second, 4 : 6, nasal breath. A Yin breath.

A metal singing bowl opens and closes the class.

First Quarter Moon

Fire ☲

Refers to a clinging energy, radiance, and the Sun. As well, Fire represents a departure, and change of state. Consider the trigram, and imagine the Yin log tossed into the Yang flames. As heat is applied the wood is transformed into smoke, light, heat, char, and ash. Let the Yang energy effect physical change by giving yourself to these postures.

This Cardinal point class is comprised of usually eight postures of five minutes each. Postures alternate between folds and bends or between unilateral left & right iterations. As seen in the half-illuminated Quarter Moon, like the Taiji symbol, this represents effectively a balance of Yin and Yang. Or a tipping point.

The breathing ratio is a twenty second, 5 : 5 : 5 : 5, nasal breath, aka Box breathing.

A symphonic gong opens and closes the class.

Waxing Gibbous Moon

Lake ☱

Its calm, windless facade is reflective from afar, and up close reveals all the teeming life under the surface. Yin concealing Yang. Here’s an opportunity to look at your practice as you’re doing it, and to recognize just how much energy is now roiling below the stillness of your Yin postures.

This intermediate phase class is typically made up of eight postures of five minutes each. Requisite folds, bends, and twists in succession.

The breathing ratio is a ten second, 4 : 6, nasal breath. A Yin breath.

A metal singing bowl opens and closes class.

Full Moon

Heaven ☰

The complete manifestation of the Creative Force. The culmination of the lunation. Yang! It is imposing, masculine, bright and hot. Fulfillment. This is an especially active class, well, for Yin yoga. While not quite Vinyasa, these postures are linked and could be said to flow. The class is intense, as it should be. Bring the appropriate attitude, and celebrate the Yang … within a Yin context. (These are, nonetheless, still three minute holds.)

This Cardinal point class boasts twelve postures of three minutes each, alternating between unilateral, and bilateral forward folds, back bends, and maybe left & right twists, too.

The breathing protocol might be, at the outset, two rounds of Wim Hof-style deep breathing. That’s two, one minute, rounds of brisk one second in / out nasal breaths, followed by a lengthy hold. Or, not.

A symphonic gong opens and closes the class.

Waning Gibbous Moon

Wind ☴

Considered gentle, the Wind trigram is seen as a breeze blowing over grassy plains. But, gentle or otherwise, the grass sways with whichever way the wind blows, all the while holding fast to its substrate, the Earth, and its elemental values. Wind itself suggests flexibility, and at least surface conformity. Yin. The focus here is on calm amidst chaos, and that begins with the breath.

This intermediate phase class contains eight postures of five minutes each. The standard fare of sequential folds, bends, and twists.

The breathing ratio is a ten second, 4 : 6, nasal breath. A Yin breath.

A metal singing bowl opens and closes class.

Last Quarter Moon

Water ☵

Abysmal and dangerous, Water is appreciated in terms of its depth instead of its surface. Water lends itself to exploring the profundity of experience, seeking its own level, seeping into the farthest reaches of whatever nooks and crannies. Immerse yourself in your own bathymetric endeavor during this Yang class.

This Cardinal point class is comprised of usually eight postures of five minutes each. Postures alternate between folds and bends or between unilateral left & right iterations. As seen in the half-illuminated Quarter Moon, like the Taiji symbol, this represents effectively a balance of Yin and Yang. Balance is fleeting.

The breathing ratio is a twenty second, 5 : 5 : 5 : 5, nasal breath, aka Box breathing.

A symphonic gong opens and closes the class.

Waning Crescent Moon

Mountain ☶

As old as the planet itself. Eternally earthbound, yet touching Heaven. Stillness. While motion always exists — even at absolute zero — the Mountain is effectively still, indicative of repose, rest, and regeneration. At the end of the lunation the idea is to unwind, recharge, refresh in anticipation of the upcoming cycle.

This intermediate phase class may use six or eight postures of five to eight minutes each, in successive folds, bends, and twists. A rather typical class. Let whatever postural intensity occur on its own, no need to help it.

The breathing ratio is a ten second, 4 : 6, nasal breath. A Yin breath.

A metal singing bowl opens and closes class.

Infinity, and Beyond…

Is there more? Of course. Lots. But there doesn’t have to be. With just this little bit of insight you can remove whatever mystery may have shrouded your perception of Yin yoga, get right into the practice, and derive tremendous benefit. Ultimate Reality? Meh. The physical practice could be all you need. And, while higher consciousness does await some, even if not spiritual awakening, Yin yoga is at least a righteous stretch!